Skaalen has no answer for late slump
Former Brewers hitting coach now has same role with A's
PHOENIX -- The job is the same, but the hitters are different these days for Jim Skaalen.Let go by the Brewers in October after two seasons as the Milwaukee hitting coach, he finds himself in the same position with the Athletics. That makes Skaalen the guru of pitch selection, the sage of on-base percentage. "All that stuff, believe it or not, was also stressed in Milwaukee," Skaalen said Friday before the Brewers and A's squared off for the second time in three days. "It didn't materialize as consistently as I liked, which is probably why I'm sitting here right now."
He was sitting in Oakland's dugout on Friday instead of Milwaukee's mostly because of last September, when the Brewers slumped to a .227 team batting average and averaged 3.6 runs per game. In the first five months of the season, they batted .257 and averaged 4.8 runs per contest.A series of clutch home runs by Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, and the even more clutch pitching of CC Sabathia, helped Milwaukee slip into the playoffs. But when club officials examined the year-end offensive numbers, including a .325 on-base percentage that ranked 21st of the 30 Major League teams and 1,203 strikeouts, good for 22nd in the league, Skaalen was dismissed. "As disappointed and sad as I was to get the news, I couldn't be happier with the development and the progress of those guys over there," Skaalen said. "The core of that team, I feel like I played some role in helping them get to where they are at. ... I don't know, because I wasn't told much, but I think that [Brewers general manager] Doug [Melvin] just felt the need for them to hear somebody new." Does Skaalen have answers for the team-wide September swoon? "I don't even have an answer for it, other than most of the players just had a tough time from keeping from doing too much," Skaalen said. "They wanted to get [to the postseason]. ... It happens. Try as I might, those kids were in the cage and I'm trying to refocus their mind-set, get them through the last month. It was just difficult. It's easy in the cage, but when you're playing big game after big game, that's just human nature. Thank goodness for Prince, and J.J. [Hardy] did OK and thank goodness for CC and the pitching staff." Skaalen was a free agent of sorts for about two months after Milwaukee let him go, and he considered moving into professional scouting. When those opportunities fell through, he accepted a job as Pittsburgh's advisor to player development, a position that opened, ironically, when Brad Fischer left to take a job as the new Brewers third-base coach. Fischer replaced Dale Sveum, who in turn replaced Skaalen as hitting coach. Sveum now faces a similar challenge. All of Milwaukee's position players from 2008 are back in '09. Will it be any different? "I don't honestly know," Skaalen said. "You'd like to think, with seasoning, that they will develop better pitch selection, better plate discipline and a more consistent approach." Skaalen said he has no sour grapes about the end of his tenure in Milwaukee. "I was ticked off [about being fired] -- that goes without saying -- and very disappointed," he said. "But [the Brewers] gave me the only opportunity I've ever had to do it at that level, and I couldn't thank them more. "Having said that, I was still confused to be let go -- despite the bad September, despite the skittishness overall, because the M.O. of that team ... is that it's a predominantly right-handed-hitting team that strikes out a lot. They said, 'Skee, what can you do?' And I said I would work with them every day, try to improve that. That was all we can do. When they step in the box, they're on their own."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.